Managing abundance

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Recently, I was lucky enough to hear Professor Calestous Juma talking to an audience of faculty, staff and students at the Aga Khan University in Pakistan. His words echo around in my head every day, as I go digging deeper into African higher education, its histories, struggles and triumphs. Providing examples from Africa, Professor Juma urged universities to think about the governance of abundance rather than the governance of scarcity. The Agenda 2063 of the African Union Commission also emphasizes the abundance of resources in the continent: “Africa is endowed with approximately 12 percent of the world’s oil reserves, 40 percent of its gold, 60 percent of the world’s uncultivated arable land, and vast water, other mineral and forest resources.” (p.32). The development and promotion of pan-African values and “taking charge of the African narrative” (p.35) are listed among the key enablers of this Agenda.

So what are some things that universities could do to reinvent themselves in order to harness this abundance? Juma emphasized the need for research partnerships, innovative programs to meet development needs and the recruitment and retention of faculty and students who were interested in innovation for the developing world (rather than in continuing status quo).

My own experiences in Tanzania and in East Africa tell me that the African continent has the advantage of being able to leap-frog technology to drive innovation. Universities also have experience drawing on the local as well as the global to expand their influence as well as their sources of funding. However, what remains to be seen is whether universities can become more adept in “taking charge of the African narrative” rather than being swept along the “globalization is all good” narrative.

More on globalization next time.

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